All cats hunt. Some breeders don’t want to admit that their perfectly groomed, well-behaved princess kitties enjoy stalking prey; it is a truth they have to accept.
It isn’t a cats fault that it is the most efficiently packaged, small land-based predator around.
Cats Just Can’t Help It
The need to hunt has little to do with hunger. An indoor cat may never get the chance to unleash his killer instincts, but will more or less be a hobby hunter. The satisfaction a cat gains by spotting the prey (bird or shoe), loading up the pounce, and landing the strike is very satisfying for them.
Hunting is at the very core of feline behavior, innately wired into each and every cat. Rural cats may have the chance to hone their hunting skills, but urban cats mostly scavenge for the leftovers we throw away. Pet cats will hunt for the thrill of it, rather than out of hunger.
Most cats are attracted to small mammals such as mice and gerbils, but some have a fixation for birds. My own 3 cats, even the stoic, cool-headed Booboo kitty, will not leave my two gerbils alone. I tried to keep them from jumping on top of their cage, but I gave in – they are unstoppable.
For feral and outdoor cats, the type of prey a cat chases can have a profound effect on the surrounding habitat. Areas such as Australia, where historically not many land-based predators existed, can have a huge change in population of birds due to cats.
How Cats Hunt
Cats just happen to know the best times to hunt – dusk and dawn. During these times, or when they are just plain hungry, they go out on the hunt. A cat will find its prey by scent, usually picking up the smell of urine, and waiting until it comes back along that same trail.
Dr. Bruce Fogle, author of the Cat Owner’s Manual, puts it well. “Cats with full stomachs are more patient than hungry cats, feral cats are better hunters than pet cats, but nursing mothers are best.”
If you have ever seen your cat play with a toy by rolling on their side and raking it with their back claws, you have just witnessed a successful kill. A cat will pin its prey down with its front claws while doing the dirty work with their back. If the cat is really hungry, it will just bite the neck, killing its prey instantly.
It should be noted that it isn’t uncommon to see a cat play with its prey before it kills or eats it. Battering and throwing it around might be a form of “victory dance”, or simple torture. After their hunt, a pet cat can usually be seen “prancing” or strutting. Think of a touchdown dance.
Going for Birds
Birds require a whole new set of rules to hunt. A cat will find the tallest grass around to get low and slowly sneak toward the feathered prey. Much like a deer, a cat will freeze in place if it thinks it was detected.
There isn’t a single time where this behavior isn’t mimicked with my own indoor cats. They will see some toy they want to play with, freeze, lower their head, perk their ears to hear the slightest movement, and spring to pounce on it. Rinse and repeat.
Cats can sometimes cause problems with the number of birds they can kill, and they tend to leave the bodies. The easiest way to avoid letting your cat get too many successful hunts is to attach a bell to their collar. The birds will hear em coming!
cover shot by Walsh